The Minds Of Leaders: De-Linking War And Violence

Date: February 2003

Dr Christopher Williams and Yun Joo Lee

"As part of the Society of Friends Preparing for Peace (PfP) initiative he, with Korean scholar Yun-joo Lee, proposes that, whilst war intrinsically entails the use of force, this need not be perceived in terms of violence. They quote Sun Tzu (500BC), from The art of war—"The supreme act of war is to win without fighting…Thus those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle.... They conquer by strategy"—and argue that in the last half century, war in the East, for example in Korea, has been less violent than the 'retributive accountability' wars in the West, notably in Iraq and Northern Ireland. They also suggest that violent political and religious leaders should be viewed as people with mental health problems, and any response planned on the basis of that assumption." source: wikipaedia


"War is made in the minds of men", concluded the founders of the UN. But it is made in the minds of particular ‘men’ – those who are leaders. If the idea of war as a political force is to change, the minds of those with power must change. We cannot make war totally unthinkable. It has been invented, so it will always be thinkable. But how is it is possible to create a context in which war is unthinkable because it is not perceived as a feasible, rational or legitimate political act by those with power?

The first part of this paper outlines familiar understandings of the evolutionary/biological drivers of violence and aggression, but also the argument that this alone does not create war. It then establishes that war is made by leaders. Despite this, leadership theory has been ignored, yet straightforward conceptual frameworks are relevant and applicable. The discussion then identifies contexts in which war seems to have been made less thinkable. Regionalisation is central, but there are other aspects: cosmopolitanism, nuclear deterrence, and the self-perception and persona of leaders. North Korea is then used as a case study, which pulls together many of the themes of the paper. Leaders ‘invent’ war through linking and de-linking functions, circumstances and ideas, and naming events and concepts, in a way that suits their personal ambitions.  Therefore in conclusion, ‘re-linking’ strategies are identified, which can frame the work of civil society organisations and progressive leaders who aim to make war less thinkable. It can provide the means to de-link war from violence.

The term ‘war’ is used broadly throughout this discussion to include organised aggression and violence between states or other significant political actors. But there is no assumption that legitimate defense and humanitarian intervention should be precluded, nor that the use of force is morally wrong. Arguably, small-scale conflict acts like intermittent bush-fires or earthquakes,[i] and may prevent total destruction. Large-scale political violence is now wrong through self-interest. We have become too good at war, and it now amounts to potential suicide. Harm caused by war has escalated exponentially, and this is not just because technology has created weapons of mass destruction. The genocide in Rwanda resulted from small handheld weapons, often no more than knives. It was information technologies that permitted aggression to be organised and promoted on a genocidal scale.

Asymmetrical war provides the new dimension. The obvious example seems to be the US. Decades of war in the form of aggressive foreign policy has become suicidal because those who see themselves as victims, rightly or wrongly,[ii] can now find novel ways of employing technology to retaliate.[iii] Retaliation is equally suicidal. No expense will be spared to eliminate the apparent aggressors – and anyone else who happens to be in the way. Any act of political violence now has the potential for self-destruction, and that is a form of madness which rational self-interested people will seek to prevent. In the future, the main weapon of mass destruction will be the human mind, particularly the minds of leaders, and that is where prevention must start.

1.        Made in the minds of ‘men’

1.1         The evolutionary/biological drivers

In his book Straw Dogs, philosopher John Gray argues that humans are simply another kind of animal, war is a game, and those who play it greatly enjoy it.[iv] At an interpersonal level, the main drivers of competition and aggression are evolutionary and biological,[v] and include status, possessions, group loyalties and a hunting instinct. These motivations are now not a declared purpose or reason of war, but they remain a means to inspire men to fight. Stephen Pinker shows that one of the goals of tribal raiding was men’s desire to capture women,[vi] and anthropologists point to social benefits such as increasing genetic diversity and exchanging ideas and culture.[vii] Traditional male ‘rights’ over women in warfare are even noted and sanctioned in the Bible.

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midan captives…And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?…kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31)

Pinker points out that rape remains one of the hidden rewards of war for men. Proposals for an international convention to make political and military leaders responsible if their troops engage in systematic rape, may do more to make war unthinkable than conventions about weapons of mass destruction.

            These evolutionary/biological drivers clearly persist in modern humans. But Pinker reminds us that fighting is not rational evolutionary behaviour, if combatants recognise that the likelihood is death or injury. The difficulty is that the recognition of the threat usually comes too late or is masked by technology or tactics by military and political leaders. He also argues that humans engage in organised conflict because of our mental ‘enforcement calculator’ – we can contrive enforcement systems for punishing deserters and cowardice, and for rewarding bravery.

            Pinker might have added another of his insights – that evolution has programmed us to dislike being cheated. Getting people to fight often entails deception and violence by leaders against their own group. In evolutionary terms, a leader is an extension of the head of a family – a trusted life-maker and breadwinner. So this form of deception and self-harm raises strong emotions, and is hidden by despots.  Making the unseen seen, is a significant strategy for making war unthinkable.

1.2      Inventing war

In 1940, anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote a paper called ‘Warfare is only an invention’.[viii] War is learned, she argued. It is a social invention like writing or marriage, and should be viewed as distinct from interpersonal violence and aggression, which have evolutionary/biological roots.  At certain times societies believe that their history proposes that war is the right response to a particular set of circumstances. It seems to follow that if we can change that perception of tradition, the likelihood of war would be diminished.

But war is more than an anonymous social invention. It cannot be achieved just by a population working in an unconscious harmony.  Societies have to be persuaded to believe that their history proposes that war is a necessary and viable option. This is achieved by powerful individuals who do the ‘inventing’ and utilise the desire and ability of human beings to follow. Social inventions arise through linking (or conflating) to create a concept. Marriage in the West has been invented by religious and political leaders by conflating functions, circumstances and ideas, such as weddings, love, co-habitation, sexual ethics, birth, child-rearing, and family. Yet there are many examples of marriage or its equivalent occurring in other configurations. Like marriage, ‘war’ can be de-linked to change the nature of the concept.

Gray, Pinker and Mead identify the two factors that make war thinkable – the awareness of evolutionary/biological drivers, and the knowledge that these can be harnessed through societal action to achieve mass violence. This is broadly accepted, but writers rarely go further and point out that this would not happen without power elites. It is leaders who can manipulate our primitive instincts to fight, can mask the risks of fighting, and can create enforcement systems. It is leaders who set goals, plan, strategise and arrange for the mass production and accumulation of weapons.

1.3         Leading and following

If we are looking for the roots of war – evolutionary or social - the human ability to lead and follow are arguably the most significant reasons. Without those human abilities, aggression would involve little more than punch-ups and skirmishes. In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Eric Fromm identifies the instinct to follow as crucial. ‘Conformist aggression’, as he terms it, ‘comprises various acts of aggression that are performed not because the aggressor is driven by the desire to destroy, but because he [sic] is told to do so and considers it his duty to obey orders.’ He continues in relation to World War II, ‘The soldier had traditionally been made to feel that to obey his leaders was a moral and religious obligation for the fulfillment of which he should be ready to pay with his life.’ He concludes that ‘major wars in modern times and most wars between the states of antiquity were not caused by dammed-up aggression, but by instrumental aggression of the military and political elites.’ In support he quotes a study by Q. Wright,[ix] which leads him to conclude that the intensity of war ‘is highest among the powerful states with a strong government and lowest among primitive man without permanent chieftainship.’[x] War would be unthinkable if uncritical obedience, unquestioning followers, and abuse of power by leaders became unthinkable.

In the legal arena, the recognition of the accountability of individual leaders for political violence stems from precedents from the Nuremberg and Tokyo trails.  These were then affirmed in the Statutes of the Yugoslav and Arusha Tribunals, and that of the International Criminal Court. This marks a new era in which powerful people can be held responsible for harm, as individuals.  But the new ethic goes further. It is an era in which leaders are likely to be seen as more culpable because of their power, and the breach of trust. And it is now well established that ‘only following orders’ is not a defense.[xi] The international community seems not yet to realise fully the significance of this new ethos, and its implications for the accountability of powerful people in other spheres of life.[xii]

Reflecting this ethic, there is now a broader realisation: contemporary conflicts are not fundamentally caused by phenomena described in popularist terms such as ‘nationalism’, ‘ethnic hatred’ or a ‘clash of civilisations’. Such conflicts are constructed and fuelled by powerful people to serve their own ends. Fromm points out that, ‘when Hitler started his attack against Poland and, thus, as a consequence triggered the Second World War, popular enthusiasm for the war was practically nil. The population, in spite of years of heavy militaristic indoctrination, showed very clearly that they were not eager to fight this war.’[xiii] Distinctions such as ‘Serbs’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Croats’ in the Balkans were not significant until they served a purpose for local despots. The Carnegie inquiry into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars in 1912-13 (note the date) concluded:

The real culprits... are not, we repeat, the Balkan peoples...The true culprits are those who mislead public opinion and take advantage of the people’s ignorance to raise disquieting rumours...inciting their country and consequently other countries into enmity. The real culprits are those who by interest or inclination, declaring constantly that war is inevitable, end by making it so, asserting that they are powerless to prevent it. The real culprits are those who sacrifice the general interest to their own personal interest...[xiv]

More broadly, Mark Mazower argues,

 ‘Ethnic cleansing’ – whether in the Balkans in 1912-13, in Anatolia in 1921-2 or in erstwhile Yugoslavia in 1991-5 - was not, then, the spontaneous eruption of primeval hatreds but the deliberate use of organised violence by paramilitary squads and army units; it represented the extreme force required by nationalists to break apart a society which was otherwise capable of ignoring the mundane fractures of class and ethnicity.’[xv]  

Conclusions of this nature are common. It is curious that, although the implication of powerful individuals is clear, the word ‘leader’ has not appeared in such statements until very recently. But then the minds of leaders often control the discourse of history.

Bill Berkeley’s book, The graves are not yet full, demonstrates the implication of powerful individuals very directly in relation to certain African countries.  He concludes: ‘Call it “tribalism”, call it “nationalism”, call it “fundamentalism” – the role of political leaders in fomenting civil conflicts has been the paramount civil rights issue of the post-Cold War era.’[xvi] Similarly, if less convincingly, Rubin argues that although the US has made significant contributions to regional stability, ‘Arabs throughout out the Middle East are constantly told by their leaders that the United States is the party responsible for Iraq’s problems.’  He continues, ‘The basic reason for the prevalence of Arab anti-Americanism, then, is that it has been a useful tool for radical rulers…to build domestic support and pursue regional goals with no significant cost.’[xvii]

" It takes leadership, operating in a context of political upheaval and insecurity – and impunity – to  translate hostility and suspicion into violent conflict. "

Bill Berkeley,

The Graves are not yet full [xviii]

1.4          Inventing and linking

Leaders invent war by linking and de-linking functions, circumstances and ideas - and naming the resultant concepts and events - in ways that make war thinkable to themselves and to followers. Discourse is central. Currently we are to fear “Islamic terrorists”, yet we were not told to fear “Christian terrorists” in the form of the IRA. The perception of whether conflict is between or within particular social groups is manipulated. At a global level, it is hard to think of an inter-civilisational war since the crusades, yet we are to believe that a war between civilisations is immanent and needs preventing.[xix] Arguably the main inter-civilisational ‘clashes’ we witness have been conceptual, cultural or in the sports arena, not on the battlefield. Whether wars are between or within defined social groups is not as clear as our leaders would like us to believe. Wars are made by leaders to justify and further their own ends, and they will construct and present seeming adversaries in the way that best suits those ends. 

A view of 20th century history that was created without the influence of powerful people, might further question the standard perceptions of whether wars are between or within particular groups. The so-called ‘World Wars’ were primarily between Europeans. Should we talk of ‘World Wars’, or the ‘Christian Wars’ or ‘European Wars’? The Cold War was presented as between two radically different ideologies. Yet, as John Gray points out, more accurately, it was ‘a family quarrel among Western ideologies,’[xx] with their conceptual roots in England. Ireland’s quasi-religious and quasi-political leaders have fomented an ongoing and unfathomable conflict for centuries, but is it between Catholics and Protestants, or among Christians? Why was the Balkan conflict ‘between’ Serbs and Muslims, but not another ‘European War’.

Beyond Europe, the Iran-Iraqi war can be seen as a war among Moslems, not between two nations. Even the violence between the Arabs and Jews is, from another perspective, within a Semitic group, genetically indistinguishable and with very similar cultural and legal practices – ‘salem’ and ‘shalom’ both mean peace.  East Asian people have been fighting with themselves for a hundred years, yet the East Asian region is the most homogeneous in the world. Japan’s colonial violence included seemingly ‘international’ aggression against Korea. But historically Korean and Japanese people are genetically, linguistically and culturally linked. The current Japanese Emperor has now even acknowledged the Korean ancestry of his family. The Korean War might seem to exemplify an in-group war. But the ‘opposing forces’ of North and South were constructed by Russia and the US. The war was started by the Soviet Union[xxi] and fought between the US and China, supported by other Cold War factions (including a manipulated UN), and played out on Korean territory at the expense of Korean people. Currently it is termed an ‘international war’.[xxii] This may be terminologically correct, but is not a distinction that can be substantiated on cultural, racial, or arguably even on ‘national’ grounds.

Was the West responsible for constructing the idea of modern war – of linking war and violence in a way that was not known before. For example, did the Meiji rulers in Japan learn to become an aggressive expansionist force by watching the conduct of their Western counterparts? Before this time, conflict in and around Japan was ritualised in the form of the Samurai, an idea that was probably imported from Korea (sa ur ae be). Only 8 per cent of Japanese families were Samurai, and they operated within a strict code of honour. Commoners were not allowed to carry swords, so violence was contained within this small military cadre. In 1869, the government pensioned off the Samurai. Was this to diminish violence, or to create a context in which a large national, European style army could be created, under the control of a single leader?

One of the things that unifies an army is attack by an opposing force. Observers of the confrontation between South Korean students and the army in the 1980s remark that the adversaries were often college friends, and at first the soldiers were reluctant to confront the students. When (apparently) a few students attacked the army, this changed and the soldiers quickly engaged in a brutal confrontation. But, as may have happened in Korea, a leader can construct this effect. At the start of World War II, Hitler staged an attack on a Silesian radio station, using Nazi officers disguised as Polish soldiers.[xxiii] The burning of the Reichstag, which was attributed to communists, has come to symbolise the phenomenon of self-attack by warring leaders. The creation of false fears or false enemies is related, even if there is no self-harm. Exposing violence and deception against ones own group, and holding leaders responsible for supposed ‘retaliation’, is an important means to dis-invent war.

As George Orwell proposed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it seems that in certain circumstances political or military leaders need to construct an ‘enemy’ to create fear and legitimate and further their own power. In Orwellian tradition, the progeny of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is a so-called ‘War against Terrorism’. There can be no dispute that this particular ‘war’ is made entirely by political leaders. The enemy is an abstract noun, not an identifiable aggressor.

Having constructed an enemy, there was then need to construct ‘terrorist leaders’. Of the many candidates, an obscure US-trained opportunist called Osama bin Laden was identified. Assuming that the videos and tapes are genuine, he quickly rose to fulfil a role. In return, bin Laden helped to build the image of George Bush as a seemingly great leader. In November 2002, a videotape apparently from bin Laden talked of Bush as ‘the Pharoe of the age’.[xxiv] The phrase will certainly help to demonise Bush in the eyes of Arabs. The name  ‘Pharoah’ was applied to the Western-oriented Anwar Sadat by his killers twenty years ago. But doubtless George Bush would have been grateful for the vote-winning accolade. The phenomenon is not new. Erich Fromm makes this point in his description of World War I: ‘The Germans claimed that were…fighting for freedom by fighting the Csar; their enemies claimed that they were…fighting for freedom by fighting the Kaiser.’[xxv]

How often has the power of ‘enemy leaders’ been created as much through the propaganda of adversaries than by their own actions? In December, a senior US army officer told Robert Fisk:

We caught a couple of really high-profile, serious al-Qa’ida leaders but they couldn’t tell us what specific operations were going to take place. They would know that something big was planned but they would have no idea what it was.[xxvi]

The officer did not appear to question whether this level of awareness equated with men called ‘high-profile’ ‘serious leaders’. Warring leaders need to construct one another as great ‘men’ – a symbiotic relationship that fuels war. Paradoxically, they use each other as a ‘resource’ (below, 1.5) – an entity that supports a leader in much the same way as a political party or administration.

This need to construct enemy leaders probably reflects two obvious insights by powerful aggressors. First, attacking a ‘terrorist leader’ is tangible and comprehensible to the public. Attacking amorphous and abstract ‘terrorist cells’ is not. On its own, for the US military to drop bombs on UN centres, weddings and other civilian gatherings in Afghanistan, might have led the American public to question the nature of this aggression. The US needed the excuse of trying to eliminate ‘terrorist leaders’ and a few itinerant clerics elevated to the status of ‘Taliban leaders’. Local Afghan people would probably say that controlling their feuding warlords would have been a greater step towards ensuring their security. We all like to hate powerful people – almost any leader can easily be presented as a natural enemy of any followers.

Second, if an enemy appears leaderless, it may become very clear to the public that, while wars are made by leaders, they are fought by their followers. And it is usually not the leaders who suffer most. In ancient Greece, leaders who declared war were morally required to lead their troops into battle. Since then, leaders have cleverly de-linked themselves from the dangers of war. When a US leader takes off in Air Force I or hides in a nuclear shelter, because of a threat of attack, this should be presented to the public as an act of cowardice, not leadership. During World War II, the British royal family stayed in London and shared the dangers of bombing with their subjects.

Another trick of warring leaders is to present disagreements between elites as intrinsically disagreements between the masses. This is rarely true, and is reflected in the traditions of war. Arthur Nussbaum concludes of the ‘quasi-international mores’ of China during the first millennium BC, ‘one stands out: the people of belligerent rulers definitely did not consider each other as enemies, and there was no discrimination against the subjects of an enemy prince.’[xxvii] More formally, the principles embodied in the Hague Conventions and the Geveva Convention affirmed that war should not harm innocent or neutral parties.[xxviii] 

The ethic can evolve one stage further - as wars are made by leaders they should therefore be fought between leaders. Disputes between Korean gangs were traditionally settled through a fistfight between gang leaders, which avoided large-scale gang warfare.

Leaders present small conflicts as precipitants of a full-scale war, yet this is often untrue. They may act to limit the scale of aggression. Among East African tribes, Colin Turnbull concludes that raiding was often ‘far from being an act of war, the raid acted as a mechanism for peace.’[xxix] A few warriors might die, but that settled things and avoided war for others. Eventually, the scale can become symbolic, and fought between leaders. In Arab countries, family feuds were often fought out for centuries through exchanging poetry between elites. War and violence were completely de-linked.

The central assumptions of this paper are therefore very simple. Wars are not fundamentally between social, groups – nations, religions, tribes, peoples, or civilisations. Wars are constructed and presented in this way by powerful people. Wars are between leaders, real or constructed.

1.5     The academic view

The significance of powerful people seems obvious, yet in discussions about war and peace, leadership has received remarkably little analytical attention beyond the vilification of a few infamous individuals. In recognition of this, Gordon Peake asks key questions.[xxx]  In conflict situations:

       How do particular leaders come to power?

       Why do followers support particular types of leadership?

       Why and how do leaders maintain ongoing support during conflict?

       What are the processes of leadership decision-making?

       How can leadership be made more positive? 

To these questions might be added, what is in the minds of leaders who instigate and promote conflict – what is their perception of themselves?

The absence of a holistic leadership approach to the analysis of war is evident from the indexes of standard texts on peace and security. Taking one at random, the seven-page index of Beyond Confrontation[xxxi] includes twenty or so immediately recognizable political leaders, power relationships are acknowledged under headings such as ‘power politics’ and ‘authority’, and context in headings such as ‘Vietnam war’ and ‘Yalta Conference’. But there is no entry for ‘leadership’. In Erich Fromm’s comprehensive Anatomy of human destructiveness, the index similarly has no entry for ‘leadership’. The 630 pages of text includes one page on ‘conformist aggression’, and there are a few sentences of elaboration elsewhere. But a whole chapter analyses Hitler psychologically.[xxxii]   

Standard analysis may focus on individual personalities, and may go further and assess the power relationships within administrative institutions, such as that of the Nazis. And history is almost obsessive about context and the significance of events such as the assassination of Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo. But rarely does analysis adopt the approach of leadership studies and look at the three aspects holistically – how did particular powerful individuals behave in particular power hierarchies within particular contexts? Leadership studies have the potential to contribute more significantly to the achievement of a world without large-scale war.

Leadership can be seen as operating within identifiable but related ‘parameters’:[xxxiii] [xxxiv]   

       the abilities of leaders - their mental and physical powers, including perceptive skills and character.

       their resources – reserves that they can control and draw on for leadership support - administrations, political parties, families, networks, relationships with other leaders. (Resources can become negative if they go outside the control of the leader, e.g. a corrupt family member, or rebellious army.)

       the context of their leadership - the things they cannot directly control at a particular moment.

The familiar reasons why leaders may opt for war can be linked to these three parameters.

       Ability – the ‘minds of leaders’ - their strategic capability, leadership skills, charisma, determination, and knowledge from previous involvement in war.

       Resources - their armies, information systems, industrial strength, political parties, power networks, and shared interests with other leaders.

       Contexts -  public opinion, world trends, natural resources, climate, and economic strength. 

The holistic question is how do these together affect how leaders use or abuse their power? The parameters are linked by relationships, including perception and trust. Followers, in the form of civil society, cannot have much direct impact on ‘abilities’ or ‘resources’, but they can create a relational context in which these might change.

Some phenomena can be ‘context’ or ‘resources’, according to circumstances, the media for instance. Some aspects are ‘transferable context’ but some are ‘fixed’.  A leader may transfer men from ‘context’ to ‘resources’ by creating military service, but factors such as the weather are non-transferable. Internet is providing another dimension – the possibility for followers to create their own leaderless ‘resources’ to challenge and control traditional leadership. The South Korean elections in December 2002 were significantly influenced by home pages of ‘netizens’, which supported the successful candidate, Roh Moo Hyun, not his pro-US anti-unification opponent Lee Hoi Chang.

One of the main explanations for the demise of aggressive regimes is that their ‘resources’ become stressed and exhausted, and that ‘transferable context’ also becomes stressed or not available. The Soviet Union seems the obvious example. Unplanned, this is also the effect that terrorists are having on the US, where intelligence systems are saturated with information, and the military is too stretched to protect Americans overseas. This proposes a strategy for hastening the decline of a despot. Information overload is the main weapon. A dictator, who must utilise his/her ‘resources’ and ‘transferable context’ for fighting a major information war, will have little capacity left to utilise them for other means of maintaining power. And this is war without violence.

The lack of academic interest in the relationship between leadership and war means a lack of questioning. When leadership is placed as the unit of analysis, there are very obvious examples to consider. Why is it unthinkable that the Dalai Lama would promote war, or advocate suicide bombing? The circumstances of his people are certainly analogous to those of Palestinians. Religious belief cannot be the only answer. A proper observance of Islam would outlaw suicide bombing in Israel because it leads to the death of women and children. Is it because the Dalai Lama perceives himself as a living God? And as a result, his leadership embraces the whole of humanity, so it is unthinkable that he would advocate the killing any human being. War has already been made unthinkable for particular forms of leadership, yet we have not asked why or how.

2.            Unmade in the minds of ‘men’

In a world where conflicts and the threat of mass destruction seem omnipresent, it is hard to remember that we are also in a world where there are significant examples of war having been made unthinkable in the minds of leaders. In which contexts has that been achieved and can the principles be extended?

2.1          MAD

The first example is perhaps uncomfortable but must be acknowledged – nuclear deterrence. Whether of not the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), makes war more or less thinkable will be probably argued about until the day that the former view is evidenced by a nuclear holocaust. But half a century of the threat of nuclear extinction has passed without it happening. The biographies of those who have had their fingers on the nuclear button disclose very little about how individuals have reconciled their personal conscience with the possibility of having to ‘do their duty’ as public officials, and perhaps exterminate a large sector of humanity. The nearest we seem to get to a clear answer to the question, ‘Would you have pushed the button’, has been, ‘I did not know that I would not.’ [xxxv]

MAD has not made war unthinkable - arguably the reverse in some contexts. It has seemingly made the use of nuclear weapons less thinkable, but that is a unique circumstance from which it is hard to generalise about other contexts that lessen the likelihood of war. But there is one generalisable aspect. So far, MAD has de-linked war and violence.

The concept of de-linking war from violence may become of greater significance in an increasingly technological world. John Gray concludes that beyond ‘the ragged armies of the poor…’, ‘[w]ars are no longer fought by conscript armies but by computers…’[xxxvi] The idea is reflected in the views of Korean politician Lee- Sang-Hee, who argues that conscription is redundant in the context of future technological warfare. Virtual war creates the possibility that, as suggested above (1.4), wars could soon really be fought between leaders, without significant harm to others. And if countries have smaller armies of technical experts, the military are less likely to be used to maintain authoritarian governments through brute force.

Virtual war also raises another possibility, the full inclusion of women in warfare. The argument is not that women are intrinsically against war, nor about equal opportunities.  As has been demonstrated in the workplace and parliament, the inclusion of women in male-dominated settings brings new dynamics and new ideas. In the male domain of war, women may well contribute intellectual tools that can help to de-link war from violence. There are already precedents. The use of Japanese soldiers as part of the peacekeeping forces in East Timor is not only significant because this is the first time since World War II that Japanese soldiers have been deployed internationally. It is also significant because many of those soldiers were women.

2.2          Regionalisation  

The second context – supra-state regionalisation – demands more detailed consideration, because the trend is towards creating regional identities. These aim directly or indirectly to increase security in its broadest sense, and that concept is replicable in many ways. Since 1945, over a hundred such regional agreements have been made.[xxxvii] Historically, we perhaps forget that the minds of leaders have already made war virtually unthinkable within formerly warring regions such as a United Kingdom and a United States of America. Europe is the more familiar example. There are other less obvious instances, which western minds do not appreciate. These include the United States of Mexico, the Peoples Republic of China, the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, Nasser’s attempt to create a United Arab Republic, and the recent African Union. Regions not only foster peace internally. They can broker peace elsewhere. Currently, the EU is working unobtrusively with North Korea.[xxxviii]

Although the political impetus to regionalise Europe came directly from the two world (European) wars, the idea was established much earlier. The publication of Kant’s Perpetual Peace a Philosophical Sketch in 1795 is often seen as the origins of a unified Europe, but arguably the vision of regionalisation can be traced back to the Renaissance and figures such as Juan Luis Vives and Hugo Grotius. The idea is also evident in works such as William Penn’s Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693), and Jeremy Bentham’s Plan for a Universal and Perpetual Peace (1786-9).[xxxix]  The lesson from history is that an idea must wait for an opportunity before it can become reality, and that may take a long time. But history also reminds us of the corollary, that good ideas eventually find their opportunity. Mike Moore, former Director-General of the WTO, claims of prescient leadership, ‘It is wrong to be right too soon’.[xl] The idea of making war unthinkable is perhaps an example.

Regions that are not based on geographical adjacency arguably have had a similar effect to that envisaged for a united Europe – the Commonwealth seems an example, as do trade blocs such as The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Economic Community of West African States   (ECOWAS).  It is also relevant to consider regional international governmental organizations (IGOs) such as the Arab League. The OECD and IMF have made Japan economically part of the west, and the possibility of a war between Japan and the West is certainly now unthinkable. The WTO may have similar effect. That is likely to be an underlying reason for admitting China and Taiwan within twenty-four hours of one another, in 2001. With the specific purpose of security, NATO similarly links two geographically distant regions, which we forget have not historically always been at peace. If we view that planet also as a region, the League of Nations and United Nations also become part of the regionalisation and security picture.

The significant point about the modern regions is their federal nature and plurality of power – no single leader has absolute power. Leaders are part of a regional leadership; they are not regional leaders. In contrast, the older regions of China, US, and UK have single overlords. Is it just coincidence that these older regions seem to display a greater propensity for war the newer ones with a greater plurality of leadership? The newer regions seem to combine two ideas – that a common interest makes war less thinkable, and the (supposedly Confucian) truism that ‘Good fences make good neighbours’.

There is another notable aspect of supra-regions. Political parties less often feature as an aspect of a regional leadership’s ‘resources’. It is arguable that political parties do little to benefit the public in a national setting. They only assist leaders as individuals, and that assistance has often been in relation to war. Hitler and Mussolini would not have got far without the Nazi and Fascist parties. Communist leaders are inherently the product of their political parties. The Catch 22 is that few political leaders will criticize the idea of political parties. And this denial is compounded through the coincidence of interest between political leaders throughout the world, even if adversaries. The party of the opposition can be criticised, but not the concept of parties.  Regions usually de-link leaders from political parties, and that seems to make war less thinkable.

De-linking politicians from parties can also be achieved through utisling democratic processes. Civil society organisations might adopt a policy of encouraging people to vote for independent candidates. In parallel, there might be a greater exposure of the dynamics that make political parties a historical legacy that is of questionable value to the general populace, and of the circumstances in which parties have clearly been a precipitant of war. This is not such a dramatic idea. The leaders of multi-national companies are not hampered by having to work within political parties, and many of them now run organisations that have a bigger budget than many countries.

The arms trade, international law and technological vulnerability make modern war intrinsically a regional context for leaders. Many conflicts have shown how weapons can end up being used against their manufacturers and their allies. A leader who permits his/her soldiers to rape women anywhere in the war region, will now be held responsible for that conduct. If a leader permits his/her army to win by causing major environmental damage to achieve victory (e.g. by bombing a nuclear power station or chemicals factory), the job of putting that right may eventually fall to that leader. Environmental impacts do not respect borders, and so problems may well be own goals or have global impacts. It is often claimed that modern democracies have avoided war, but is it that these nations are coincidentally technologically vulnerable, and have too much to lose? The international context of war entails a regional/global interest and responsibility, but that is not widely recognised. If not regional/global leaders, we need regionally/globally minded leaders.

2.3         The planetary region

If the planet were seen as a region, would the development of a pluralist planetary leadership create a world in which war is unthinkable? There are precedents. If we look at leaders within the international organizations, that seems to be true. It is hard to envision Director-Generals such as Gro Harlem Brundtland (WTO), Mary Robinson (UNHCR) or Mike Moore (WTO) as thinking of war is a rational response to any situation, however threatening. Yet these particular international leaders have all been national leaders and, at least technically, that means they would have been prepared to sanction war in their national interests.

But this list is selective. These were all national leaders with a planetary-regional vision of some sort – leaders who recognised a global or ‘Planetary Interest’[xli]. Brundtland originated the concept of sustainable development in Our Common Future. Mary Robinson had promoted global human rights for many years. Mike Moore was dedicated to the idea of free world trade well before he headed the WTO. It seems that there is more to the personality of leaders who eschew war than their job title. The key factor is that they have a planetary vision, and that has arisen because of an interaction between their ‘ability’ and the context in which they found themselves. Brundtland, for example, was a medial doctor and was strongly influenced by her father who was an international medic. She then had the chance, as Prime Minister of a progressive nation, to promote a vision of sustainable development and later at the WHO, the vision of ‘Healthy people – healthy planet’.[xlii] We need to understand better the context in which some leaders perceive themselves as part of a global leadership, even when working at a national level?

One explanation is that some leaders recognise the concept of common threats. International relations classes sometimes engage in counterfactual analysis of the consequences of the threat of invading aliens from another planet. One conclusion is common. National leaders would forget their differences and unify into a planetary leadership, to fight the common foe. The concept of global security - which links environment, development and conflict - tries to build this ethos through presenting the new common ‘threats without enemies’, such as climate change and ozone depletion, in the form of security discourse.[xliii] Current discussions about the Earth being hit by asteroids are in this genre. Even if this threat is remote, the process of addressing it could engender more global forms of leadership.

2.4                Cosmopolitanism

The main progenitor of a planetary region is probably not global politics, but the increase in population movement throughout the world - greater cosmopolitanism through international living[xliv] and transnational communities.[xlv] The British population comprises 340 spoken languages and 33 national groups of more than 10,000 people. By 2001, the number of immigrants became more than the natural growth of the population. The increase in international living may not guarantee peace, but it constructs a context in which too many people have too much to lose from war, and leaders are likely to recognise that.

The idea reducing the propensity for war through uniting Europe can be traced back even earlier than prescient texts, and interestingly to leadership and elites. Arranged marriages within elite European families were intended to reduce conflict and increase trade. The marriage between King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, aimed to link England with Spain and the Hapsburg Empire. Similar arrangements occurred in other parts of the word, for example in East Asia, and were accompanied by a near acceptance of mistresses and concubines signaling that these arranged marriages were for the purpose of international not human relations. The Jordanian Royal family provides a notable contemporary example of marriages that, although not arranged, have contributed to international harmony and regional security.

International marriage is not now just the privilege a few elites, and this aspect of globalisation clearly reduces the likelihood of popular support for war.  Most countries have a significant number of nationals with family links in other nations. In Germany one in six families is transnational. Even in hitherto homogenous Japan, the proportion of marriages to someone from outside Japan is now one in thirty-five. Interestingly, international marriage also brings the same benefits to communities that were achieved through the appropriation of women as a prize of primitive warfare – genetic diversity and an exchange of ideas and culture (see above 1.1).

The role of leadership is not now to arrange unpalatable marriages between themselves, or even to promote international marriage between their followers. It is to reduce the barriers to international marriage for everyone. So far they have failed to achieve this, and have actively blocked this simple and cheap route to enhancing international relations and security. In the UK, a ‘spouse visa’ for legal married immigrants takes up to three years to obtain. Japan can issue the same visa in three days.

(select here for the second part of this document -  "Changing the minds of 'men'")


[1] In Korea, the concepts ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ are understood in terms of Korean culture, but are expressed in English.

[2] The same phrase is used Korean – chea zik (whip) – dang gun (carrot)

[3] Other examples of international conflict, such as Kashmir or Cyprus, are not framed in terms of a declared war.

[i] Buchanan, Mark (2000) Ubiquity, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, p190.

[ii] Rubin, Barry (2002) The real roots of Arab anti-Americanism, in Foreign Affairs, November/December, pp73-85.

[iii] Mackenzie, D. & le Page, M. (2002) ‘Act now’ plea on bioterror threat, New Scientist, 28 September, p4.

[iv] Gray, John (2002) Straw dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals, Granta books: London, p182.

[v] Fromm, Erich (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness, Penguin: London.

[vi] Pinker, Steven (1997) How The Mind Works, Allen Lane: London, 509.

[vii] Turnbull, Colin M. (1976) Man in Africa, Penguin: Harmondsworth, p83.

[viii] Mead, M. (1940) Warfare in only an invention – not a biological necessity, in Asia, 40, no 8 pp 402-5.

[ix] Wright, Q. (1965) A study of war, University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

[x] Fromm, Erich (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness, Penguin: London,

pp279, 289, 290.

[xi] Williams, Christopher (2001) Leaders of integrity: ethics and a code for global leadership, United Nations University Leadership Academy: Amman, p72.

[xii] Williams, Christopher (2001) Leaders of integrity: ethics and a code for global leadership, United Nations University Leadership Academy: Amman, pp65-74.

[xiii]  Fromm, Erich (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness, Penguin: London, p288.

[xiv] Thompson, Mark (2000) Forging war: the media in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Hercegovina, University of Luton Press: Luton, pv.

[xv] Mazower, Mark (2000) The Balkans, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, p129.

[xvi] Berkeley, Bill (2001) The graves are not yet full: race, tribe, and power in the heart of Africa. Basic Books: New York, p14.

[xvii]  Rubin, Barry (2002) The real roots of Arab anti-Americanism, in Foreign Affairs, November/December, pp79,80.

[xviii] Berkeley, Bill (2001) The graves are not yet full: race, tribe, and power in the heart of Africa, Basic Books: New York, p120.

[xix] Herzog, Roman (1999) Preventing the clash of civilizations: a peace strategy for the twenty-first century, St Martins Press: New York.

[xx] Gray, John (2002) Straw dogs: thought on humans and other animals, Granta books: London, p181.

[xxi] See: Zubok, Vladislav M. (2002) CPSU Plenums, leadership struggles, and Soviet Cold War politics, (Cold War International History Project) Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, CWIHP Document.

[xxii] Norton-Taylor, Richard & Bowcott, Owen (1999) Deadly cost of the new warfare, in The Guardian, October 22, p3.

[xxiii] Fromm, Erich (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness, Penguin: London, p288.

[xxiv] Fisk, Robert (2002) He is alive… The Independent, 14 November, p3.

[xxv]  Fromm, Erich (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness, Penguin: London, p286.

[xxvi] Fisk, Robert (2002) With runners and whispers, al-Qa’ida outfoxes US forces, The Independent, 6 December, p15.

[xxvii] Nussbaum, A. (1962) A concise history of the law of nations, Macmillan:New York, p4.

[xxviii] Morgenthau, Hans J. (1963) Politics among nations: the struggle for power and peace. Alfred A Knopf: New York.

[xxix] Turnbull, Colin M. (1976) Man in Africa, Penguin: Harmondsworth, p82, 31.

[xxx] Peake, Gordon War Lords and Peace Lords: political leadership in conflicted societies,

[xxxi] Vasquez, John A. et al (eds.) 1995 Beyond confrontation: learning conflict resolution in the Post-Cold War era, Univ. of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor

[xxxii] Fromm, Erich (1973) The anatomy of human destructiveness, Penguin: London.

[xxxiii] Lee, Yun-Joo (2002) Perceptions of leadership and development in South Korea and Egypt, unpublished PhD thesis in progress, SOAS, University of London, Chapter 3.

[xxxiv] See similar in: Barker, C. & Johnson, A. (2001) Leadership and social movements, Manchester University Press: Manchester.

[xxxv] Answer by the commander of a nuclear submarine, to the author.

[xxxvi] Gray, John (2002) Straw dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals, Granta books: London, p162.

[xxxvii] Scholte, Jan Aart (2001) The globalisation of world politics, in Baylis, J. & Smith, S. (2001) The globalistion of world politics: and introduction to international relations, Oxford University Press: Oxford, p24.

[xxxviii] The People’s Korea (2002) Park Chung Hee’s daughter goes to North; Kim Jong Il meets Ms Park,

[xxxix] D’Appollonia, Ariane Chebel (2002)  European Nationalism and European Union, in Pagden, Anthony The Idea of Europe: from antiquity to the European Union, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp171-190.

[xl] Moore, Mike (1998) A brief history of the future: citizenship of the Millennium, Shoal Bay Press: Christchurch.

[xli] Graham, Kennedy (1999) The planetary interest, UCL Press: London.

[xlii] Graham, K. & Williams, C. (eds.) (2002) Healthy people – healthy planet: an interview with Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO, United Nations University Leadership Academy: Amman.

[xliii] Prins, Gwyn (1993) Threats without enemies: facing environmental insecurity, Earthscan: London.

[xliv] Wallace, John A. (1996) The experiment in International Living: a brief history of its international development, 1932-1992. Alan C Hood & Co.: London.

[xlv] Portes, Alejandro (1997) Globalisation from below: the rise of transnational communities,


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